Think Out Loud

Mini art gallery in Portland hopes to foster community

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Oct. 6, 2022 4:47 p.m.

Broadcast: Thursday, Oct. 6

The PDX Free Little Art Gallery welcomes onlookers to take or leave art.

The PDX Free Little Art Gallery welcomes onlookers to take or leave art.

Courtesy of PDX Free Little Art Gallery


The PDX Free Little Art Gallery is a diorama that features miniature pieces of art and people browsing the gallery. It’s located in the Foster Powell neighborhood near Southeast 57th Ave and Southeast Rhone St. Onlookers are welcome to take or leave a piece. Gallery patrons stand at about 6 inches tall, and some of the pieces they are viewing measure about 3 inches by 3 inches. We hear more about the gallery and the inspiration behind it from Grant, the creator.

Note: We’re only using the creator’s first name to protect his privacy.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. A new art gallery opened up in Portland about two months ago. You can visit it, but it’s very hard to get inside. It is impossible, unless you’re about six inches tall. It is a diorama located in the Foster Powell neighborhood near Southeast 57th and Southeast Rhone Street. It’s known as the PDX Free Little Art Gallery. You can think of it as one of those ‘take a book, leave a book’ street libraries, except for art. I’m joined now by the creator of this gallery who, for privacy reasons, has asked that we not share his last name. Grant, welcome to Think Out Loud.

Grant: Hi, thanks for having me.

Miller: Thanks for joining us. Can you describe what your gallery looks like right now?

Grant: Oh yeah. Okay. So, it started to look like a modern art gallery. It had white walls, exposed beams, hardwood floors and six inch figures that I’d move around to look at all the artwork that people would place in. But for the month of October, we went full Yayoi Kusama themed. So, she’s the Japanese artist who is known as the ‘Princess of Polka Dots’, and she does those infinity rooms and polka dots everywhere. So we did orange polka dots all over the inside of our gallery. We covered the gallery with paper and polka dots and we put a little Yayoi in there and a yellow pumpkin that she’s known for.

Miller: I mean, like a little six inch figure that is, that represents the artist?

Grant: Yes.

Miller: How’d you do that?

Grant: So I use these figures that are normally meant for preschool. They’re just little six inch figures of different people in different careers. So, some might be like a police person. Anyway, I have an elderly woman who, I painted her hair orange because Yayoi was doing a lot of colored bob wigs. So, she’s in there.

Miller: So obviously, with pumpkin colored polka dots for the season, this is highly seasonal. Are you going to be changing the look of this gallery every month?

Grant: It’ll go back to its base after this month. So, it’ll be white walls looking like a modern gallery with hardwood floors. But yeah, every once in a while I will put in, like, a little installation. Or at least for Pride Month, I’ll go full out again with something over the top.

Miller: What inspired you to create this and put this up on the street to begin with?

Grant: Yeah. So there was this artist named Stacy Milrany in Seattle, and during December of 2020, she kind of went viral for the first free little art gallery. She wasn’t the first art exchange box, but she was the first one to have it diorama size and these little figures looking around. So I always wanted to make one of these and I finally bought a house, so I put it in as fast as I could.

Miller: What were you hoping people would do when they stopped by?

Grant: Yeah, so not to be cliche or anything, but it’s really for public joy. So I hope that people walk by, they see it, they stop, they enjoy a little dose of art in their everyday life. The gallery changes almost every day. It changes a lot on the weekends. A lot of artwork people take and put in, and yeah, I’m just looking to foster art into a more normal practice in people’s lives.

Miller: That, so that was your hope. Do you remember the first time you came to the box and saw that somebody, some stranger out there, had changed it? Had taken something away or put something in?

Grant: Yes, I do. Because they were these really cute crocheted pieces attached to canvas, canvases and I’ve never seen … like, I know crochet. I know canvas. But I’ve never seen them put together kind of like in a 3D sculpture coming off the canvas, and I thought that was so cool and creative.

Miller: How much interaction have you had with people who stopped by?

Grant: Yeah. So, I was out there all weekend putting yellow paper all over the walls, polka dotting everything, so I met a ton of new neighbors.


Miller: You were doing that because it’s installed there. So it’s not like … you didn’t bring it inside your house to work on it and put it back. You were doing all the work on the street.

Grant: Yeah, I was out on my curb working on the box.

Miller: So, what would people say as they would stop by?

Grant: The most interesting thing that people say [is] they admire it. They’re like, ‘oh I am looking forward to adding my own piece into it.’ But the coolest thing is hearing that people share it way beyond. People that directly walk by every day on their daily walk.

Miller: What do you mean? How else is it shared?

Grant: They’ll share pictures of it with their coworkers, with their art friends in Portland. They might even send it to people that aren’t necessarily in Portland. There’s an Instagram where I’m documenting all the artwork that comes in, so that gets shared a lot.

Miller: What has this meant for your sense of community? I mean, it seems like, as you said, you did this after you bought a house. So I imagine you’re relatively new to the neighborhood.

Grant: Yeah. So, it’s great because before this, I did some chalk drawings of all the bridges in Portland on my sidewalk. So I was previously known as ‘The Bridge Chalk Guy’. And so now I’m the ‘Free Little Art Gallery Guy’.

Miller: What are you getting out of this?

Grant: It’s just spreading joy, and I get to … I have a little interest, so I might make a canvas. I might do an installation with fiber and stuff. So it helps me really stay and pump out more artwork to keep the gallery fresh, exciting and interesting.

Miller: Oh, it’s like it’s a permanent prompt where you’re just, you’re forced. You get to feed the beast.

Grant: Yeah. So you can’t ever say you’re bored, because you could always be working on something cool for the gallery.

Miller: But the paintings or the works that go up on the walls, they’re like what, three inches by three inches, or something?

Grant: Yeah, they’re like post it notes size. People do sculptures, too. They’ll put them in and then I think of myself as kind of like the gallery attendant, and I’ll put them up on little blocks. I’ll move the artwork. Like the new things that come in, I’ll put it in the prime area, right at the back. I’ll move the people to interact with the art. So there’s kind of like a story going on.

Miller: Is it a challenge for you to work in a medium that’s so small or a scale that’s so small?

Grant: I think it’s really accessible. I personally love the challenge. I also think that it’s accessible for anyone if you have ten minutes before dinner is done, you can get out a pencil and paper and you can knock out a little doodle, a drawing. You could draw from a reference of an artist that you like, but you can add that piece to my gallery and you could be a featured artist.

Miller: At the beginning, you would say … I forget your exact words, but I think you said, maybe it sounds corny, but you want to bring joy. How do you know you’re bringing joy, and why are you worried about it sounding corny?

Grant: I know I’m bringing joy because people literally tell me on the street they’re so excited to see the new things in there. People will design their walks just to go around the art gallery now to see it every day. And I don’t know on the last part.

Miller: The political messaging and political ads and news stories for months, maybe for years now, they hammer over and over this message that Portland’s is dying, or Portland is on fire, or Portland is over. What’s your view of Portland right now?

Grant: I love Portland. It’s so great. I have this free little art gallery on my sidewalk, and it’s a little piece of joy. There’s also these other exchanges on sidewalks around all of Portland. There’s a rubber duck exchange. There’s another art gallery. There’s a dinosaur diorama that you can walk by. There’s all these cool little things that you can find magical little pockets on your walks.

Miller: Grant, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thanks very much.

Grant: Thank you.

Dave Miller: Grant is the creator of the Free Little Art Gallery. You can see it in the Foster Powell neighborhood near Southeast 57th Avenue and Southeast Rhone Street.

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